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Kashmir gives US its Muslim face

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  • Published 25.06.09

Srinagar, June 25: The highest-ranked South Asian in the White House traces her roots to the separatist stronghold of Sopore in Kashmir.

Farah Pandith was today appointed special representative to Muslim communities in the US state department headed by Hillary Clinton.

“This is not just an honour for our family but the entire Kashmir,” said her maternal uncle Mian Mushtaq Ahmad, a former chief engineer of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

“I spoke to her this morning and she was obviously very happy,” added the Srinagar resident.

Farah, in her early 40s according to her relatives, will be in charge of a new office that is responsible for reaching out to Muslims across the world, according to a release by the state department. They will take forward Clinton’s efforts to “engage with Muslims around the world at a people-to-people and organisational level”, it added.

The Pandiths left for the US in 1970, when Farah was only four. Her father, Mohammad Anwar Pandith, is a businessman originally from Sopore, a place that has been in news for all the wrong reasons over the past 20 years. It is the hometown of Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani and has been a separatist bastion all these years.

Her mother Mehbooba, from Srinagar, is a chest specialist. With their younger son, they live in Boston.

Farah, an alumni of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has kept coming back to Kashmir over the years, her uncle said. She even did her postgraduation thesis on the Kashmir insurgency.

Earlier, she was a senior adviser on Muslim engagement at the state department, serving under the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

“The last time she was here was some three years back. She was not allowed to come to this (troubled) region after that because she was working in the White House,” said Ahmad, many of whose relations are settled in the US.

The Pandiths are a respected business family in Sopore and Farah’s grandfather Abdul Samad Pandith was the first to set up a cinema there. Samad Talkies shut its doors after militants banned cinema in the Valley in 1990.

The appointment comes a year after the George W. Bush administration gave Neel Kashkari, a man of Kashmiri origin, the task of bailing out the US economy as the interim assistant secretary of the treasury for financial stability.